Moxie Marlinspike, founder of the hugely popular encrypted communications app Signal, today announced at a blog post that he is stepping down in a move he says has been underway for several months.
While unexpected, the change does not come as a shock to industry watchers who have watched the rise of Mobile Currency, a cryptocurrency startup that counts Marlinspike as its first technical advisor.
Last spring, eight-year-old Signal, which has more than 40 million monthly users, began testing an integration with MobileCoin, which it says is focused on enabling privacy-protection payments made through “near-instant transactions.” over the phone. But how wired reported last week, a “much broader phase of this experiment has been quietly under way since mid-November. That’s when Signal made the same feature accessible to all its users without fanfare, offering the ability to send digital payments far more private than a credit card transaction – or a Bitcoin transfer – to many millions of phones.”
MobileCoin founder Joshua Goldbard told the agency that the launch spurred massive adoption of the cryptocurrency, telling Wired that “there are over a hundred million devices on planet Earth now that have the ability to activate MobileCoin and send a message of end to end. encrypted payment in five seconds or less.”
Notably, you need to load your wallet with the cryptocurrency first, and as Wired notes, it is listed for sale on only a few smaller cryptocurrency exchanges, including FTX, and none offer it to US consumers yet. (FTX founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried is one of many investors in MobileCoin through his quantitative trading company and cryptocurrency liquidity provider, Alameda Research.)
Even Americans will have access to the currency soon, however, Goldbard told Wired, pointing to agreements recently signed, including with the cryptocurrency payment processor. zero hash, which should allow US residents to buy MobileCoin in the first few months of this year.
Meanwhile, going worldwide has been good for MobileCoin, which last summer raised $66 million in Series B funding at a valuation of $1.066 billion and, according to sources close to the company, is in the process. to lift a Series C round in an appraisal. which one source describes as “in the high single-digit billions” of dollars.
MobileCoin’s growth has also raised questions about Signal and about Marlinspike, who apparently tried to keep some distance between himself and MobileCoin. One apparent reason it focuses on Signal employees, some of whom told reporter Casey Newton last year that they saw Signal’s cryptocurrency mining as risky and an invitation to bad actors to use the platform.
A potentially bigger but related concern from critics is that integrating a privacy currency could cause Signal legal headaches. As Matt Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University, told Wired last week: “I’m very nervous that they’re going to get themselves into trouble by flirting with this kind of payment infrastructure when there’s so much legislation and regulation around it. .”
It’s a valid concern. As we noted earlier, cryptocurrencies and messaging apps have historically not mixed well due to nervous regulators. Kik Messenger, the mobile messaging app founded by a group of students at the University of Waterloo in 2009, created a digital currency called Kin for its users to spend within the platform. The project eventually led to a years-long battle with the Securities & Exchange Commission that nearly decimated the company. Telegram, a much larger messaging app than Signal – claims to have over 500 million monthly active users – likewise abandoned plans to offer its own decentralized cryptocurrency to anyone with a smartphone after years of fighting the SEC.
Even Facebook has not been able to make much out of its own cryptocurrency project, with the longtime leader of that effort, David Marcus, announcing in November that it was leaving the company.
If Marcus appears on MobileCoin, we wouldn’t be surprised, but we’d be even less surprised to see Marlinspike get more involved in some way.
Neither Goldbard nor Marlinspike responded to our requests today for more information, but asked if Marlinspike could consider taking over MobileCoin as CEO (the company doesn’t have one), a source close to him says he’s “not doing it” and right now it is. just “give it a break”.
We’ll see. We’re not promising to eat our shoes if we’re wrong. (It happens!)
For now, Marlinspike writes in his post, he will remain on Signal’s board as Signal’s search for a new CEO continues. Its executive chairman, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, will serve as interim CEO of Signal in the meantime.